Critics of Housing Choice Vouchers have alleged that an increased presence of voucher holders leads to increased crime in some neighborhoods. Systematically and empirically studying the question for the first time, this paper finds that while neighborhoods with a higher proportion of voucher holding residents tend to see higher crime rates, there was not a causal relationship. The research reveals that other neighborhood characteristics are much more significant in determining crime. Instead, it appears that voucher holders tend to move in after a neighborhood experiences a rise in crime, suggesting that the intended role of vouchers to enhance holders’ neighborhood choice may be limited.
In recent years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has shifted resources from public housing to the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV or “voucher”) program. There were 2.2 million vouchers nationwide in 2008, compared to 1.2 million public housing units. Although the academic and policy communities have welcomed this shift, community opposition to vouchers can be fierce, due to perceptions that voucher-holders will both reduce property values and heighten crime. Despite the public concerns, however, there is virtually no research that systematically examines the link between the presence of voucher holders in a neighborhood and crime. Our paper uses longitudinal, neighborhood-level crime and voucher utilization data in 10 large U.S. cities over 12 years, and finds voucher-holders moving to a neighborhood does not, in fact, increase crime. We do see, on the other hand, that households with vouchers tend to move to communities when crime rates are rising.
Do Vouchers Help Low Income Households Live in Safer Neighborhoods? Evidence on the Housing Choice Voucher Program
This article examines an important potential justification for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, namely, whether participants are able to access safer neighborhoods. We found that, in 2000, voucher households occupied neighborhoods that were about as safe as those housing the average poor renter household and were significantly safer than those in which households assisted through place-based programs lived.
The federal government increasingly relies on housing vouchers to make housing more affordable and hopefully enable low-income households to reach higher quality neighborhoods. This study analyzes the efficacy of the voucher program at achieving this goal, focusing on neighborhood crime. Using census tract-level crime and subsidized housing data from 91 large cities in 2000, the study compares neighborhood crime rates of voucher holders to those of public housing, Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, and unassisted poor renter households. Our paper finds that while voucher households resided in neighborhoods about as safe as that of poor renter households, and with much lower crime rates than those lived in by other subsidized households, the voucher households did not choose a lower poverty neighborhood. In addition, the study finds differences by race, which suggest that housing vouchers may be more effective helping black households reach safer neighborhoods than white and Hispanic households.